To make the most of your time in Belfast, your first point of contact should be the centrally located Belfast Welcome Center (Tourist Office) at Donegall Square North, just opposite City Hall. The staff can provide maps, book accommodation and tours, and recommend itineraries and places of interest. There is also a useful left luggage facility. Like a lot of historic cities, Belfast grew up around its cottage industries. These industries were situated in locales or "quarters." There are still remnants of four quarters in Belfast -- Titanic, Gaeltacht, Cathedral and Queen's Quarters. All four are rich in history, culture and full of local 'craic' (good times).
Belfast's most recently re-developed Quarter is full of innovation, excitement history and heritage. Belfast's millennium project, the Odyssey, acts as the gateway to the Titanic Quarter, aimed at entertaining all ages, from the W5 discovery center, ten-pin bowling, cinema, eateries, bars and nightclubs, to the Arena, home to the Belfast Giants. You can also immerse yourself in Titanic heritage, whether taking the various tours or visiting Titanic's Dock and Pumphouse. Mixing old with new, the iconic Titanic Belfast building sits next to the renovated S.S. Nomadic, Titanic's tender. It's not all Titanic -- T13, Ireland's biggest skate, BMX and urban arts center, provides high octane events and workshops.
Trace Your Roots
The Titanic Quarter is the starting point for anyone hoping to trace their family tree. PRONI, Northern Ireland's public record office, offers visitors access to interactive, touchscreen information points with visual and audio content, free Wi-Fi, and a Search Room with electronic ordering. So whether you're on the trail of Belfast's most famous maritime creation or tracking down your own ancestors, the Titanic Quarter is the place to visit!
The Paint Hall (Titanic Studios)
Once the place where the component parts of ships were painted in climate controlled conditions, today the Paint Hall is a fully functioning film studio. Currently the home of HBO's "Game of Thrones," it was also used for the filming of the children's fantasy sci-fi adventure film "City of Ember" and for the medieval comedy "Your Highness."
This center for Irish language and culture is in the west of the city and is characterized by a lively culture of music, debate, drama, great eateries and traditional pubs. Many visitors come to see the area's famous political murals and peace wall, but there's plenty more to discover. Head up Divis Mountain to discover some fantastic views or visit Belfast's only protected bogland, "The Bog Meadows Nature Reserve" with its diverse range of flora and fauna.
Fáilte Feirste Thiar
This Tourist Information office and welcome center is located in the heart of the Gaeltacht Quarter. The office distributes free maps, offers tours and general information about this part of the city.
The Quarter's flagship culture and arts center contains an excellent restaurant, book and gift shop, theatre and gallery.
Political Murals (throughout Falls Rd and Shankill Rd.)
Visit the world-renowned murals in the nationalist Falls and unionist Shankill portions of West Belfast. The main murals are situated on gable walls of buildings on both the Falls and Shankill roads, but others are located in the lower Shankill estate (off the lower Shankill Rd onto North Boundary St) and Bombay St (off the Falls Rd onto Clonard Gardens).
Eileen Hickey Republican History Museum
This museum explores the history of Republicanism in Belfast. It offers a very interesting glimpse into what Belfast was like for the Catholics and Nationalists who had to live there through the discrimination and violence of the troubles. Free admission.
Taking its name from St. Anne's Cathedral, the Cathedral Quarter is packed full of fascinating architecture, ranging from distinguished banks and public buildings, to cozy pubs and trendy warehouse restaurants. In recent years, the Cathedral Quarter has taken on a pivotal role as the focus for Belfast's burgeoning arts and crafts scene. The Quarter is home to many visual and performing artists, as well as community groups.
The Cathedral Quarter contrasts the old with the new, with St. Anne's Square, home to the Metropolitan Arts Center (MAC), and upmarket eateries alongside some of the oldest streets in Belfast, dating back to the seventeenth century. Take the time to visit the Oh Yeah Music Center, where you can catch a live gig or see an exhibition or call into the Belfast Circus School.
Make time for afternoon tea in the luxurious Merchant Hotel to admire the opulent surroundings, huge domed ceiling and Ireland's largest chandelier.
Any visit to the Cathedral Quarter must include al fresco entertainment in Custom House Square. Cotton Court is another boutique open-air performance space in the area.
St. George's Market
Northern Ireland's largest indoor market and one of Belfast's major attractions for visitors and locals alike. It sells a fascinating range of foods, clothing and crafts, and will appeal to all of your senses. You can pick up some real bargains here, and the market itself provides a charming glimpse into Belfast life both past and present -- many of the stallholders will be more than happy to tell you some fantastic local lore.
The leafy area spread around Queen's University in the south of the city, the Queen's Quarter, is home to a treasure trove of eclectic shops, cafes, bars, galleries, live entertainment venues, the beautiful Botanic Gardens and Ulster Museum. Recommended stops include the Naughton Gallery in Queen's University for a spot of visual culture, taking in the exhibitions and enjoying the architecture of the Ulster Museum. Spend an afternoon exploring vintage clothes and second-hand book shops, stroll around the elegant Victorian Palm House in Botanic Gardens or take in an art-house flick at the Queens Film Theatre.
As a center for culture and learning, there's plenty to explore, so watch out for murals, sculptures and statues around the area. It's also a great area for live music, featuring venues like the Mandela Hall, Speakeasy and Empire Music Hall, acoustic nights in local cafes and bookshops, the Sonic Arts Research Center at Queens and the Crescent Arts Center.
The castle dates from 1870 and was restored in 1988. It is situated on Cave Hill and has good views of the city and coast. Its most famous feature, known locally as Napoleon's Nose, is believed to have been the inspiration for Jonathan Swift's novel, Gulliver's Travels. The park is home to the Cave Hill Adventurous Playground, archaeological sites, ecotrails and orienteering routes. The estate contains landscaped gardens and mature mixed woodland, and offers superb views of the city from a variety of vantage points. It is home to many different species of wildlife.
Belfast Zoological Gardens
Located in North Belfast on the slopes of Cave Hill the Belfast Zoo is home to more than 1,000 animals and 150 species, many of which are in danger in their natural habitat. The zoo also carries out important conservation work and takes part in over 90 European and global collaborative breeding programs which help to ensure the survival of many threatened species.